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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lost in the Music

I'm counting the cars
on the freeway below
lost in the music ...

- David Usher

For more than a year, I've heard people say that listening to music while trying to concentrate on something (such as studying or writing) is bad, because scientists have proven with multiple studies that multitasking is bad.

And I get where they're coming from. They're right: multitasking *is* bad. When I have to multitask at anything, I don't get nearly as much done as when I'm focused on a single project at once.

But I disagree that listening to music should be counted among that.

I am the eldest of four girls, with a five-plus year gap separating me and the other three. Now married, I live in an apartment and I don't get to choose my neighbours, whether they be screaming children or hard-partying college kids. My entire life has involved finding peace and quiet so I can write. And since I don't live on a farm or in a cabin in the woods or on the lake, away from the bustle of life, I need some way of minimizing distraction. Music helps me do that.

I'm trying to think of a way to explain this. In some places on the Internet, I've tried to explain that I use the music to fortify the part of my brain that deals with interruptions. The sound forms a barrier from *other* sounds that might distract me. The rhythm from the beat plus the melody of the song itself both get me in the groove. I stop listening to the song itself and I get into a zone. The music protects me. Did you know, I wrote the climactic two chapters of SIGN OF THE STAR by listening to Kevin Rudolf ft. Lil Wayne's "Let it Rock" on repeat sixty-eight times?

Now that I really think about it, I realize that what I'm describing is a trance. Hey, if it helps me write, I am perfectly fine with that designation.

A final thought: Several times in the last few months, I have tried writing without music. The fact that I am easily distracted aside, I feel unschooled, unable to concentrate, and way less productive. The only exception to this is (don't laugh) when I'm alone in the woods or it's so late at night, there *are* no distractions.

Even then, there's an iTunes in my head. Earworms? Not really. At this point, if something annoys me I can switch songs.

What I think this all comes down to, though, is the oft-repeated Magical Words mantra: there is no one right way to do this. I shouldn't feel bad if others, even scientists, disagree. This is what works for me. If listening to music while writing doesn't work for you, that's okay; to each their own. The times when I forget this are the times when I am least producive; when I complain, my TOEM writing group laughs and tells me to don my headphones.

Girl, put your records on.


  1. YES! to the point about using music to focus when you have loud neighbors. I generally don't have music on when I write, but sometimes there are those days or those scenes that require the same song 68 times to get into the groove!

  2. I can't write and listen to music, but I keep music on in my art room at school all the time. The kids like it, I like it, it creates an awesome working environment.

  3. Lots of authors have playlists they listened to while writing their books. Whatever works!

  4. Jennifer - I completely agree.

    JRo - That sounds like a great use of music. I think it has something to do with the rhythm and beat. Like I said, whatever works for you, right?

    Angelina - Agreed!

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